What: Phoenix Suns vs. five West contenders, starting with the Dallas Lukas
When: First 9 days of regular season
Prediction: 3-2 record
Your Phoenix Suns enter the 2022-23 season with almost entirely the same team you’ve seen since over the past two years. The top nine players return from last year’s 64-win team, and eight of them have been around for the whole good-times run.
On one hand, that’s a huge plus since that group has won more games (playoffs + regular season) than any other team in the league over that time. Even taken individually, the Suns have the most regular season wins (115) and the second-most playoff wins (21). They made the NBA Finals in 2021. They boast the best starting back court in the NBA, with Chris Paul and Devin Booker the only guard pairing to make All-NBA in 2022. The General Manager won Executive of the Year in 2021 and the coach has won Coach of the Year two years in a row (from peers in 2021, from media in 2022). And, four-fifths of the starting lineup are just now entering their primes.
On the other hand, lack of healthy turnover could be a bad omen. These Suns are the first team in at least 25 years (I stopped looking at that point) who still have their same top players and coach two seasons after coming up short in an NBA Finals (2021). The sample size on this roster is quite small, but the group regressed in the 2022 playoffs and may have already peaked. One of their All-NBA guards is, at 37 years old now, fighting a losing battle with Father Time that could escalate quickly. The ‘disease of me’ may have already taken hold, as a glue guy is holding out for an extension and/or his old starting job back, and two other young players are fighting for every dollar they are worth. The owner is suspended from the league and has put the team up for sale, potentially choking the front office from making any bold moves. To wit, the front office did the absolute minimum transactions this summer.
In other words, this could be a great season. Or this could be a really bad season.
In fact, the range of potential outcomes has never been more uncertain than now. They could push all the way to the NBA Finals on a wave of grit, resilience and brilliant execution. But they could also disappoint so terribly they trade away half the team at the trade deadline in four months.
How much will we find out during the opening week or so? A lot, I think. If the Suns get through the opening games with a winning record, we at least know they’re on track to be the regular season juggernaut we are used to. What does that mean for playoff success? No one knows that answer until next June.
State of the roster
Injuries: Landry Shamet (hip) is day-to-day but has not progresses to contact drills
Inactive: Jae Crowder is officially listed as inactive on the team’s roster report
Everyone else is ready to go, including Cameron Johnson and Cam Payne, who’d missed last week’s preseason games for finger injuries suffered in game two against the Lakers, and Dario Saric, who’d missed those games to participate in the birth of his first child.
The team says they are eager to get the season started.
Let’s preview the team’s first five games...
What: Dallas Mavericks at Phoenix Suns
When: Wednesday, 7:00PM AZ time
Where: the scene of the crime
This wasn’t just a pick-pocketing. It was a full-on mugging. On the open road, with millions of people watching. The Phoenix Suns most lasting memory of the Dallas Mavericks is losing by a combined 60 points in their last two playoff games, including a 33-point drubbing at home in Game 7 on May 15.
“They got us,” small forward Mikal Bridges said a couple weeks after the Suns were eliminated.
Indeed, the Suns have made no excuses. Any time they are asked about the historic meltdown they simply say, from GM to coach to players, without hesitation, that they just didn’t play their game and the Mavericks beat them.
You can bet they’re more anxious for this game than any opener this group has played, but All-Star Devin Booker isn’t letting on.
“No matter what happens, win by 30, lose by 30, there’s 81 more games after it,” Booker said, in his usual deadpan way.
Monty Williams admits this game means something, though.
“You have to acknowledge that there’s an emotional component to it,” head coach Monty Williams said on Monday, two days before the opener. “I’m not going to sit here and lie about it.”
We know the Suns are basically the same team, minus Jae Crowder and JaVale McGee but plus Dario Saric and... Jock Landale?
How are the Mavericks? They are a little worse on the wings, and a little bigger in the middle. You might remember they killed the Suns with two-guard combinations of Luka Doncic, Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie and a five-out offense with wings and bigs who stood around the three-point line.
This year’s team will look a little different, and the prediction pundits expect them to be worse overall. They lost Brunson in free agency, and added size with Christian Wood and JaVale McGee. As a result, the Mavs offense will look more traditional with Wood and McGee spending a lot of time in the paint — a stark contrast to the drive-and-shoot-or-kick five-out lineups they used to kill the Suns.
How will opening night go? Expect the Suns to win the energy battle because they’re the team with something to prove. But they have to make shots. If we see a reprise of the Suns missing everything while the Mavericks make everything, we’ll see another Mavs win.
Key matchup: Deandre Ayton vs. JaVale McGee
I’d imagine that Luka Doncic will give JaVale every opportunity to throw up a 20/20/20 game in this one (points, rebounds, minutes) — at least as far as the points go. If Luka can make Dwight Powell a dive machine, imagine what he can do with JaVale.
Ayton, on the other hand, has a chip on his shoulder and comes into the season in the best opening-night shape of his career. He’s likely to want to erase that Game 7 benching with a high level performance of his own.
What: Phoenix Suns at Portland Trailblazers
When: Friday, 7:00PM AZ time
Where: in Portland
This is the only easy game on the Suns opening-week schedule. The Blazers get a healthy Damian Lillard back, but all the preseason predictions have the Blazers with a better chance to win the Draft Lottery than a Play-In spot.
Around Dame are the $25-million-a-year minted Anfernee Simons, newly acquired Jerami Grant and incumbents Jusuf Nurkic and Josh Hart. That’s a quality starting lineup, but unless Dame returns to MVP level, they aren’t going to win 40 games.
Still, they’re an NBA team that could beat anyone on any night. If the Suns have an emotional letdown after the Dallas game, I can easily see them playing a terrible game in Portland. And on the other side, if the Suns lose to Dallas I can see them coming into Portland with extreme focus and desperation for a win.
Either way, I fully expect the Suns to go 1-1 in the first two games.
What: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Clippers
When: Sunday, 7:00PM AZ time
Where: in LA
Ohhh boy. It’s the return of annual MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, folks. The Clippers are one of the title favorites and predicted to finish no worse than second in the West. They’ve got a pair of All-NBA forwards in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, surrounded by a deep team of veteran role players.
When both Kawhi and PG play well, they’re going to be almost impossible to beat. But even without those two, the Clippers role players — two lineups worth of versatile NBA talent — can beat any team on any given night.
The Clips are at home. Kawhi will be pumped up, and the Suns will have a tough tough time coming away with a win.
What: Golden State Warriors at Phoenix Suns
When: Tuesday, October 25, 7:00PM AZ time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix
And the hits just keep on coming. The likely 1-2 Suns come home to face the World Champion Golden State Warriors, winners of 4 of the last 8 NBA Finals. This is a rivalry in the sense that the Suns are constantly in the shadows of these Warriors, losing every big game where the Warriors truly care about the outcome. The last time the Suns played a healthy Warriors, the Warriors won convincingly in Phoenix on Christmas.
However, the Warriors have their own issues right now. Draymond Green is back with the team, but he’s the only veteran without a long-term contract after they spent big on punching bag Jordan Poole (4 years, $140 million) and Andrew Wiggins (4 years, $109 million). Green already lost his cool over this contract stuff, punching Poole in a practice two weeks ago. He was somehow not suspended, but I can’t imagine the vibes are immaculate anymore.
It’s probable the Warriors are more worried about themselves than their opponents at the beginning of the season — especially Draymond Green and Jordan Poole — and the Suns could win this one.
Actually, I give the Suns the edge.
What: New Orleans Pelicans at Phoenix Suns
When: Friday, October 28, 7:00PM AZ time
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix
Ahh yes, the Pelicans. Who gave the Suns a scare in the first round of last year’s playoffs by beating them up on the boards and getting Brandon Ingram’s best performance of his life.
Now the Pels add supernova Zion Williamson back into the fold — which could mean they become juggernauts, but could also mean they need time to figure out their rotations and pecking order. Who takes shots late in games? Who eats first, second, third, etc.? Who becomes a decoy more often than they’d like? Who plays defense?
Still, the Pels have three potential All-Stars if everything falls in line for them, and they’ve got one of the best coaches in the league in Willie Green.
The Pels will be good if everyone stays healthy, but I don’t think they will be at their best early in the season, on the road in Phoenix.
I predict a Suns win here, leaving them 3-2 after a brutal stretch.
It’s kind of incredible that the Suns will see three stars in the first five games that they haven’t seen in over a year: Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard and Zion Williamson.
What say you, Suns fans? What will the Suns record be after five games?
What’s the Suns record after five games?
This poll is closed